The Cowboys signed Hampton defensive end Marcus Dixon to a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent. Dixon spent 15 months in prison for aggravated child molestation and statutory rape before the Georgia Supreme Court ordered his immediate release in 2004. Dixon, 6-4, 295, was a three-year captain at Hampton and was on the Dean’s list. He finished his senior year with six sacks.
The Cowboys, “were the most aggressive during the day,” Dixon’s agent Joe Linta said. “They didn’t have a seventh round pick, but they convinced me that they would’ve taken him had they had one. Tim Ciskowki’s word to me is gold.” Linta said no team expressed any concern over Dixon’s past leading to him not being drafted.
Dixon was on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” this week in an effort to present him as a sympathetic figure. While Dixon was in fact convicted of “aggravated child molestation,” the jury found that the sex in question was consensual. The girl, a fellow high school student, was 15. He was 18. She is white. He is black.
ESPN’s Greg Garber:
At 6-foot-4, 294 pounds, Dixon, 23, is a gifted pass-rusher, a commodity NFL teams prize above all but quarterbacks. This spring, he was one of 350 players invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis, where he ran a 5.2-second 40-yard dash and bench-pressed 225 pounds 21 times, and his vertical jump was 26 inches.
But while the NFL is infatuated with these numbers scouts call “measurables,” a slipperier, more subjective term now influences the choices teams make: Character.
He maintained a 3.96 grade-point average and distinguished himself on the baseball diamond, basketball court and football field. “He really wanted to do well,” said Jeff Shiflett, the head football coach.
Despite these achievements, there were issues. Two alleged incidents got him suspended from school for a total of 10 days. In March of his sophomore year, he exposed himself in a classroom, and a year later he inappropriately touched a 14-year-old girl after track practice. Neither episode was reported to the Floyd County police. Dixon called the first incident a “stupid prank,” and said of the second: “All we did was made out.”
On Feb. 6, 2003, Dixon accepted a full scholarship to Vanderbilt University, historically the SEC’s weakest football program and the strongest academic school. He could have gone to Georgia, but thought a Vanderbilt degree would carry him further. Four days later, after basketball practice, he had sex with Kristie Brown, a white 15-year-old virgin, in a classroom trailer behind Pepperell High School.
“It was consensual sex,” said Dixon, who was 18. “When we came in there, it was set up like we was going to have sex. She unbuckled her own pants. “At the end, the only thing she told me was like, ‘My dad cannot find out about us having sex.’ Because in my town, black people having sex with white girls is not something you do. She said, ‘My dad cannot find out about us having sex, because he’ll kill us both.’”
Later, Brown would confirm this final statement in an interview on “Oprah,” but they differed on a key point. Kristie said she was raped. Marcus was called to the principal’s office two days later, placed in handcuffs and taken to the Floyd County jail. There it was: Three sexual incidents in three years.
“That’s all reason to believe he’s a pedophile,” Floyd County detective Gary Conway, who investigated the case, told ABC’s “Nightline.” “And if he got away with this, he would do another one.”
Prosecutors, led by assistant district attorney John McClellan, charged the football star with six counts: rape, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, sexual battery, statutory rape and aggravated child molestation. Marcus was represented by a public defender, who was working his first defense case. The trial dominated conversations in Rome through the first half of May 2003.
“[Racism] just underlies the whole thing,” Peri Jones said. “If that had been [son] Casey instead of Marcus, they would have said, ‘OK, this is a good kid — they wouldn’t have done that.’ But they didn’t do that with Marcus. They just judged him by his color. “In my opinion, they charged Marcus with aggravated child molestation to make sure of a win. They wanted to make sure that they won the case because they knew he didn’t rape her.”
After deliberating for 20 minutes, the jury of nine whites and three blacks acquitted Dixon of the four counts that alleged he had used force. The jury clearly believed that the sex was consensual, but because Brown was viewed as underage according to state law, jurors found Dixon guilty of statutory rape, a misdemeanor, and aggravated child molestation, a felony. In doing so, the jury had no idea the child molestation conviction carried a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 15 years. Juror Kathy Tippett cried when she found out.
Because Dixon was 18 and Brown was 15, what transpired between them, according to Georgia law as it was written, was technically aggravated child molestation. The statute was enacted to protect children from adult predators, but in recent years other states have passed so-called Romeo and Juliet laws to distinguish between full-fledged adults and 18- and 19-year-olds.
On May 3, 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court, ruling 4-3, said Dixon should have been prosecuted solely on the statutory rape charge, which carries a maximum one-year sentence, rather than the child molestation charge. He was released immediately, amid cheers and applause from family and friends, after serving 15 months in prison.
Afterward, NAACP national president Kweisi Mfume said he was elated. Following the recommendation of the Supreme Court, the Georgia legislature changed the law that the Floyd County district attorney had used to convict Dixon of child molestation. It is no longer a felony when teenagers have consensual sex.
It’s a bizarre, troubling case. Dixon is no “Pacman Jones,” either in terms of his conduct or, alas, his talent. And the Cowboys probably don’t have room for another pass rusher, despite head coach Wade Phillips’ insistence that “you can never have enough.” Still, it’s an interesting case and you have to root for the kid to make it.
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